A Love Letter to the NHS, by IDLES’ Joe Talbot
I was born in the NHS in 1984. I was born with club feet, I returned to hospital for check-ups and surgeries regularly for years. Then when I was 12 my mum’s health deteriorated for the remaining years of her life until I was 30 when she passed. My stepfather died of cancer when I was 19 and then my partner and I were expecting a baby which we sadly lost just last year: not your regular narrative for a 33-year-old but that is life whether I like it or not.
You see, that is the true nature of the universe; it is random and brutal and the world keeps spinning whether we have a good day or bad. Our mortality is what levels us all. Whether we are the Queen or are homeless we can all get ill or we can all get hit by a bus tomorrow.
The NHS was created in 1948 as a systemic response to the near obliteration of human welfare in Britain as a result of the Second World War. The only logical reaction to totalitarian and fascistic chaos was a unification of the people; to see the people within the state as equals, devoid of class and race and instead as flesh and bone. Healthcare was changed from a disjointed cluster of charity organisations to a basic British right. A solemn practice of treating others as you would want to be treated. How humane!
In all the traumas I have been through, it was of course the surgeries and the research and the nurses that immediately kept myself or family members intact. But the residing factor in my love for the NHS was the dignity we were allowed as humans; the consultant gently holding my mother’s hand, the “YOU WERE BRAVE” stickers I proudly wore, the nurses brushing my mum’s hair, the surgeon making me laugh or the midwife visiting my partner and I 12 months after we lost our daughter and shedding a tear for our pains. It was a reminder that what fuels the NHS, rather than science or taxes, is compassion from the people for the people.
The NHS is the FIFTH largest employer in the world (!). Even more impressive is the compassion from the employees that built and sustained that gigantic vessel. My partner, who is a nurse, has shown me from the inside just what it takes as a person to maintain the innards of the NHS. And it’s not pretty. She would come home 14 hours after the start of her shift in tears as she had to keep a brave face for a mother who lost her baby, or calmly deal with an abusive drunk, or keep a patient calm who is senile or speaks no English whilst getting the job (on paper) done.
There is no rest for the nurses or the junior doctors or the porters or the cleaners because as they become more and more overworked and underpaid, the ones that stay, stay because they believe in the philosophical leveller of human welfare as a right. That duty of care, because it is a state-funded infrastructure, doesn’t end at the individual either: it is an organisation with all people’s interest in mind. The NHS will care for people who may abuse the system and come back without caring for themselves or taking their prescriptions because they are seen as patients not customers; they need empathy as well as drugs.
Every patient that leaves their bed is monitored in many different ways that continue until that person is seen fit: All for free because the NHS was built on the understanding that all humans were born and die equal and that human welfare is a right. Beyond those rights, at the core of the NHS is a sustained practice of human kindness and good will.
On behalf of my daughter, my mother and everyone in this country, I say without any hesitation, to my partner and everyone who has helped build and sustain the NHS, I love you.
IDLES’ album Joy as an Act of Resistance is out now via Partisan Records